The flag bearer of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in the 2023 presidential election will emerge Tuesday in Abuja after its two-day primaries. The exercise was foreshadowed by wily and peripatetic engagements, which climaxed in President Muhammadu Buhari’s passionate plea to the governors to allow him choose his successor. This was an undemocratic pronouncement by an elected president and should be excoriated by Nigerians in the strongest of terms.
In making his demand, Buhari had drawn inspiration from what has become endemic in our democratic process since the Fourth Republic began in 1999 – the desire of incumbents to decide who succeeds them. President Buhari himself had given governors the permission to pick who will succeed them. As this practice has become a canon in the APC and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) that enthroned it, the president too wants to be allowed to exercise it. Consequently, he told the governors, “In keeping with the established internal policies of the party and as we approach the Convention in a few days, therefore, I wish to solicit the reciprocity and support of the governors and other stakeholders in picking my successor, who would fly the flag of our party for election into the office of the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in 2023.” To think of this is bad enough; and to voice it out with a sense of entitlement is repulsive and an abuse of the essence of democracy.
There are 22 APC governors, five of whom are in the race for the party’s presidential ticket. Those who did not throw their hats in the ring have thrown their weights behind their own preferred aspirants. This has made considering the president’s request a Sisyphean task as deadlocks of their meetings in this regard evinced. Because of the rogue model of our political party administration in Nigeria, whereby parties are primarily funded by governors, they therefore control the delegates to any party Convention. This explains why Buhari is begging them. But the Buhari gambit has no place in any democracy that is worth its salt.
Besides, each of the 23 aspirants in the race, 10 of whom were reportedly disqualified by the John Oyegun screening panel, paid a whopping non-refundable fee of N100 million for the expression of interest and nomination forms. How they will lose their money, are forced to abandon their ambitions and go home and remain loyal party members, remains to be seen. In a seemingly Freudian slip, the president had served notice of this manoeuvre when he disclosed in a television interview in January that he had a preferred aspirant, but would not disclose his identity “because he may be eliminated if I did so.” APC apparatchiks made a mistake at that point by not stopping him in his tracks. Again, the president was enamoured of his success in handpicking Abdullahi Adamu as the national chairman at the party’s recent convention.
In Buhari we find the amplitude that the leopard does not change its spot. Here is a former military dictator who contested for the Presidency in 2003, 2007 and 2011, with Nigerians and international observers still unconvinced of his democratic credentials when he stepped forward again in 2015. But conscious of this doubt, he told a global audience in the build-up to that election in a lecture at Chatham House, London, to declaim of his atonement: “But I can change the present and the future. So, before you is a former military ruler and a converted democrat who is ready to operate under democratic norms.”.
Evidently, a reality check is needed by the Buhari administration. To start with, the president should read that Chatham House lecture once more to see the disparity between his claims and actions in office in the past seven years. Existential threats of banditry, kidnapping and the barbarity of rampant beheading of citizens have reached stratospheric proportions. For instance, since 2020 when Mr President ordered that 10,000 personnel should be recruited to enhance local policing, the Nigeria Police Force and the Police Service Commission have been entangled in a messy court case over whose responsibility it is to do so, whereas the 1999 Constitution, as amended, in the Third Schedule, Part 1, Section 30, states that (a) the Commission shall have power to appoint persons to offices other than the Inspector General of Police. And the president watches this embarrassing drama without decisive action, while non-state actors take control of large swathes of ungoverned territories to perpetrate criminal activities.
The economy is in a tailspin with unemployment estimated to reach 33 per cent in 2023. With the procurement of delegates in dollars at primaries of political parties, one dollar now exchanges for N610 in the parallel market, while Nigeria’s inflation rate in April was 16.82 per cent, and the public treasury is still treated as a spoil of war by public officers and some political appointees. Public universities have been on strike for four months because of underfunding. Add to this the divisiveness of Buhari’s presidency. At no time in the history of Nigeria has political appointments been so lopsided to the point that the phenomenon has become a staple of national conversation. This has put national unity, cohesion and nation-building in jeopardy. If this lachrymal canvas is anything to go by, then Buhari, as the sole decider of his successor, is a maladroit drift, a disaster in the making that should be halted.
Lest we forget, it was the same undemocratic tendency of the Olusegun Obasanjo administration that foisted the candidature of the late President Umar Yar’Adua on the PDP in the 2007 and its attendant “do or die” election that set the chain of events, which the country has not recovered from just yet. What is more, the desire of governors to install their successors is driven solely by corruption, to enthrone lackeys who will cover up their illicit tracts or those they will continue to manipulate in order to keep governing by proxy. It has bred prebendalism in our politics with its deleterious consequences of the lack of transparency, accountability, endless wrangling, and a war of attrition between governors and their so-called godfathers.
Henceforth, party members should rescue their political organisations from the asphyxiating grips of governors and president by refusing to be disenfranchised at conventions and ensuring that checks and balances are etched in political party management and the leadership recruitment process. It is by so doing that this toxic practice will be buried for a virile democratic ethos to emerge.
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